At its core, an artistic performance refers to an artwork dependent on the artist’s presence instead of an object created by them. Yet, there’s also something beyond the traditional notions of theater or other forms of performance art.
There’s an awareness that an artist has some degree of autonomy over their own creation, and the performance endures. While they may be socially critical, difficult to reproduce in real life and possess many more traits, these are the characteristics of a great piece of performance art.
Performance art has become a loaded and convoluted term these days, something as complicated as it is intriguing. Here we’ve gathered some of the best performance art pieces ever created. Some of them are even slightly NSFW.
The inklings of what performance arts could achieve outside of theatrical contexts stem from the DADA movement’s home base in Zurich, at the famous Cabaret Voltaire. Founded in the back room of the Holländischen Meierei tavern in early 1916 by Hugo Ball and Emmi Hemming, the Cabaret Voltaire became a space of raucously experimental artistic activity that often resulted in the crowd’s ire. In 1917, the Cabaret Voltai became a refuge for artists fleeing war-torn Germany, including Kurt Schwitters, Tristan Tzara, Hans Arp, Joseph Beuys, Marcel Janco, Max Ernst, and Man Ray.
The Cabaret Voltaire helped to spread international cultural ideas, as exiles from all over Europe found a creative outlet in its back rooms. During World War II, the Nazis shuttered the venue, and it reopened under different management in 1947.
Triadic Ballet premiered in 1922 at the Bauhaus school in Weimar, Germany. In it, dancer Maria Jolas danced three different roles simultaneously while wearing a variety of masks and costumes.
Schlemmer’s radical notion that all art—including dance—was artificial in part led to the creation of his Triadic Ballet. One of the most widely performed works of avant-garde ballet, Triadic Ballet established itself as one of the first multimedia performances.
The original choreography has since disappeared but is recreated based on Schlemmer’s notes and intuition.
The Joy of Life
The Joy of Life, a ballet choreographed by Jikken Kodo, premiered in Tokyo in 1952. This work is considered to be one of the most important works of modern dance in Japan.
Kobo composed the music, designed the stage set, and created every element of the production. He even wrote the libretto. He believed that art could help people realize what it meant to live life fully.
In 1916, Pablo Picasso and Erik Satie began working on a ballet called “Parade.” In doing so, they broke away from the traditions of the dance form and pushed it into uncharted territory. They used new materials and techniques to make the production unique, and audiences responded accordingly.
The piece premiered in 1917 in Paris. Picasso designed costumes and sets while Satie composed music and wrote lyrics. He was inspired by the idea of creating something completely different from what was already being done, and he wanted to challenge people’s perceptions about how ballet could be interpreted.
Picasso also wanted to use the medium of dance to express his ideas about cubism, and he felt that the best way to do this was to create a work that defied convention. He didn’t want just to paint dancers; he wanted to show them in a whole new light.
Satie, meanwhile, was interested in exploring the boundaries of musical composition. His goal was to find ways to break down conventional rules and structures. He believed that the greatest expression of human emotion came through music, and he thought that the most effective way to communicate feelings was to use unusual sounds and rhythms.
He also wanted to take advantage of the fact that the public was becoming increasingly familiar with sound technology. At the time, radios were beginning to become popular, and he hoped that the combination of music and radio waves would help him achieve his goals.
Marina Abramović is one of the world’s best-known performance artists. She has been called “the queen of performance art” because of her dedication to creating innovative works that are often challenging to watch. In 2009, Abramovic did something very different, though; she sat silently for six hours.
In Rhythm 0, Abramović exposed humanity’s dark side by sitting passively at a table at the mercy of visitors who could touch her, prod her, poke her, and do whatever they wanted. During the course of the evening, people pushed the boundaries of what is acceptable behavior towards another human being.
Abramović arranged a variety of objects in front of her, including a rose, a feather, and a knife. Visitors were allowed to poke, prod, and cut her clothing and skin with the items she had provided. Some even loaded a gun and pointed it at her head.
The event took place over several days at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
In 2014, artist and activist Petr Pavlensky staged a dramatic protest against the Soviet Union’s practice of forcibly institutionalizing people deemed mentally ill. He climbed onto the roof of Moscow’s notorious Butyrka prison and began slashing his face with a razor blade while screaming about human dignity and freedom. The act was intended to draw attention to the fact that many people in Russia are being held against their will in mental institutions for no reason.
The incident sparked outrage among Russians, and it earned Pavlensky international recognition. He was later charged with hooliganism, sentenced to three days in jail, and fined $1,500. His actions were widely seen as a form of civil disobedience, and he became known as a symbol of resistance to the system within Russia itself.
The vanishing Dutchman
Bas Jan Ader spent three months making his way across the Atlantic Ocean in a tiny wooden sailboat called “Lucky Star.” He left New York City on May 17th, 1975, and arrived in Plymouth Harbor, England, on July 5th. After spending some time in London, he crossed over into France and eventually reached the Canary Islands. From there, he continued on to Spain and Portugal. On August 16th, he boarded another ship bound for Italy. But he never got there. Instead, he disappeared without a trace. He had no money or identification on him.